Atlantic and Fourth Avenues in Brooklyn have at least two things in common.
First, both are among the most dangerous roads for pedestrians in downstate New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, according to a 2010 report released by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a non-profit organization committed to reducing car dependency.
Second, both streets bound the Atlantic Yards project, the future home of the Barclays Center and the New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets. That has made the streets the subject of still more ills, among them clogged traffic, illegal parking and noise. And that is only since the arena construction began in March 2010. Local residents fear much worse after the arena opens in September 2012.
They have plenty reason for concern. The project’s environmental impact study expects 2,500 cars on game nights. The planned on-site parking lot has spaces for only 1,100 cars. Existing off-site public parking facilities should accommodate the remaining cars, the study said, but fans might find it more attractive to park for free on the street, taking away the spaces used by the residents.
Then there is the lack of confidence in the city’s ability to invest in public transportation and the testy relations with the project’s developer, Forest City Ratner Companies. A number of proposals to ameliorate the traffic concerns are floating about—such as residential parking permits or charging cars for driving in the arena area during events—but with less than a year to go before opening night, none are agreed on. Uncertainty and nerves are high.
“For years plenty of people said that you’re going to have a traffic mess there if you build an arena, and that’s what’s about to come,” said Daniel Goldstein, spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, a community coalition that opposes the Atlantic Yards project.
Although there is public transit near the Barclays Center, including the Long Island Railroad and the Atlantic Avenue subway stop, which serves nine lines, the many parking options encourage people to drive to events.
“That was one of the developments that has just infuriated residents here,” said Christine Schmidt, who lives close to Atlantic Yards.
Goldstein believes it will take a big incentive for people to leave their cars at home and take public transit.
“If someone’s buying a $100 ticket and up, who are going to luxury suites, and their plan is to drive or be driven to the arena, they’re not going to change their plans to take the subway just because they get a free soda, or a discount on their ticket, or a free MetroCard, ” he said.
In response, Joe DePlasco, Forest City’s spokesman, said, “We are looking at several measures to encourage mass transit including marketing programs and are also working with the MTA in assessing traffic and transit changes as appropriate.”
But those comments do little to appease residents. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s summary of UCLA professor Donald Shoup’s book, “The High Cost of Free Parking” says “cruising for parking results in a tremendous amount of excess driving and all of its concomitant ills — air pollution, crashes and traffic congestion.”
This fear is merited. The same problem is happening in the Bronx to those who live near Yankee Stadium. People driving to baseball games are choosing to park on the street for free instead of using parking garages that were built for the new stadium.
According to a March 2011 Crain’s New York article, the company that runs these garages, Bronx Parking Development Co., admitted in August that “the facilities, which contain 9,000 parking spaces, were never more than 60 percent full on game days.”
Wayne Bailey, who is a volunteer with Transportation Alternatives and lives a quarter block from the arena, believes that residents’ concerns will continue to fall on deaf ears. He pointed to the project developer’s lack of response to construction complaints as evidence.
Trucks from the site have been illegally using Clermont Avenue as a truck route to get to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, said Bailey. He complained about this violation, but the developer said it was an isolated incident and no big problem.
“I went up on my roof and I sat there for four hours and videotaped every truck coming out of the arena area and the rail yards. And guess what? They turned left onto Clermont,” said Bailey.
Residents living near the arena created the website Atlantic Yards Watch as a place to report these issues and to discuss their concerns about the project. As of December 20, 454 incident reports have been submitted to the site.
Peter Krashes, the editor of Atlantic Yards Watch, said that because the project is being developed by a for-profit company, Forest City doesn’t need to consult with the community or local officials.
Locals feel they have been left in the dark when it comes to the developer’s plans for handling arena traffic.
A plan released in May by the developer called for the minimal improvements that must be in place before the arena opens. These include a new entrance to the Atlantic-Pacific subway station on the arena block, free subway fare for targeted Nets ticketholders, remote parking with shuttle buses, 400 spaces for bike parking, HOV parking (where patrons are required to purchase three or more tickets to park in certain spots), and a website and social media to promote public transit.
The developer plans on releasing a more complete plan early next year, which will have specifics on how they will encourage public transportation and manage parking. They will also evaluate the traffic situation after the arena opens.
But Krashes said residents are still waiting for answers for questions they had about the May mitigation plan. “If you’re waiting for answers from six months ago, the future seems unnerving,” he said.
One solution that residents have been rallying for are residential parking permits. Under a plan that the City Council passed in early November, residents would be able to purchase a special permit that would allow them to use parking spots on residential streets.
Those without a permit would not be able to use those spaces, but at least 20 percent of spots in a neighborhood would be non-permit.
The plan would be decided on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Pricing hasn’t been worked out yet, but money garnered from the permits would directly go towards public transportation improvements.
In a statement, Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents Prospect Heights, the neighborhood in which Atlantic Yards is situated, said that cities like Boston and Chicago, where sports facilities are located in densely-populated areas, already have successful parking plans with residential permits.
But there are vocal critics of the plan, including State Senator Martin Golden. “This is nothing more than another tax on our communities,” he said in a statement. Golden, however, represents southern Brooklyn, where people are less concerned with Barclays Center traffic, and more concerned with the cost of the parking permits.
Despite its opponents the City Council overwhelmingly voted in favor of the legislation. The plan now must be passed in Albany, but it’s likely that Golden and other politicians will make sure it’s killed there.
Danae Oratowski, Chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, thinks that along with residential parking permits, it’s also important to have meter parking that extends into the evening so it will make it difficult for arena patrons to park on the street.
Schimidt has found a solution that would help residents better communicate issues with arena traffic. She has done research on other cities with stadiums and has found that some of those places have created a team of community liaisons to work with the neighborhood on an ongoing basis, and believes the same should be done for the Barclays Center.
These liaisons need to report to the community on a regular basis and issue annual reports about problems that have come up and how they have resolved them.
Ron Shiffman a professor at the Pratt Institute’s Center for Planning and the Environment and treasurer for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, thinks congestion pricing may deter people from driving to the arena.
The congestion pricing that Shiffman is suggesting would only apply to non-residents. He said that in addition to the streets around the Barclays Center, it should also be implemented in downtown Brooklyn to deal with commuters who park in the area to take public transit into Manhattan.
Money received from congestion pricing can go to improving public transportation in those areas, he said.
Shiffman also pointed to public transportation improvement and upkeep as key things that will help with the arena’s oncoming traffic situation.
There should be ferries to take fans from New Jersey to the Brooklyn waterfront, then a shuttle or trolley to take them to the arena, he said. This service is needed since the Nets are a New Jersey team, with a fan base in that state.
He added that the Long Island Railroad station near the arena needs to improve its accessibility and put in an escalator.
“The whole transit network [at Atlantic Yards] is antiquated. It’s vast in terms of the number of lines that come in there, but in terms of its public spaces and circulation spaces, it’s relatively restricted,” Shiffman said. But the transit network is controlled by the MTA, not the developer, and money is tight now.
“Unless we generate enough income to invest in public transit at the same that you’re discouraging the use of the automobile to access [the arena], I think there will be absolutely no solution,” Shiffman said.